Succeeding Stateside

What’s new at the SHOT Show for 2014 – and what can UK attendees do to make the most of the show? The NSSF’s Chris Dolnack explains all

For the first time in over 30 years, the SHOT Show is under new management. The mammoth American gun trade show has parted company with Reed Exhibitions, which fell out of favour with the US gun trade after restricting certain firearms at its Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show last year. Now the USA’s National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF) has appointed Convexx to manage the show – a company based in Las Vegas, which is where SHOT has taken place since 2010.

Gun Trade News asked Chris Dolnack, the NSSF’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, whether this change of management would mean a change to the make-up of the show. He said: “Whether or not under new management, the SHOT Show is always evolving, as we seek to make it better each year. That is the reason we conduct on-site focus groups and post-show surveys, which we take very seriously.

“Navigation around the Sands Expo and Convention Center will be enhanced with additional newly designed, high-impact signage, including arrows pointing to the main hall exits on Level 1 and Level 2. Retailers will have more opportunities to learn new skills and take innovative ideas back to their stores from SHOT Show University and our expanded retailer education seminars. In addition, select retail buyers have been invited to participate in a hands-on shooting range experience on opening morning.”

That reference to navigation alludes to one of the most often talked-about factors to SHOT: its sheer scale. Dwarfing anything the UK or even Europe puts on in terms of pure numbers, SHOT can be a daunting prospect to the first-timer. Chris has some advice on how to deal with that: “The first-timer should come in with an awareness that he must first make himself as comfortable as possible, and second, plan ahead of his arrival to most efficiently use his time at the show.

“Be sure to wear shoes that allow you to be on your feet all day. Las Vegas has an arid climate, and it is important that you keep hydrated, so be sure to have an ample supply of bottled water with you each day.

And as for that second point, forward planning: “Planning is essential. More than 1,600 exhibitors occupy over 630,000 sq/ft of space. Your best bet is to study www.shotshow.org, review the floor plan and use the planning aids that SHOT Show provides you.

One such device is the SHOT show mobile app: “The app allows show attendees to search for exhibitors, navigate the show floor with interactive maps, find new products, learn about show specials, view the show’s education schedule, set up appointments, request callbacks and find show services. The app will be made available just before the 2014 SHOT show.

“MyShow Planner is another planning aid, available at shotshow.org, that helps you keep track of exhibitors you want to visit at the show, and organise sessions and appointments with your own calendar.

“Don’t wait to get to the show to schedule appointments. The SHOT Show provides retailers and media the opportunity to meet with top company personnel and learn about the latest products, but these people’s time is in great demand. Figure out who you want to see, make your appointments and plan your routes. Do this before the show.”

This hyper-organised approach differs from what Gun Trade News has heard some exhibitors at shows like the British Shooting Show and IWA say – they have favoured an approach that’s light on rigid appointments, as over-running and chance meetings mean they can’t always be kept. Does this mean SHOT is a more formal, structured experience than its counterparts this side of the Atlantic? In fact, says Chris, it’s virtually the opposite: “SHOT is much more frenetic – meet and run, so to speak – whereas the European sales floor is more measured, and several meetings may take place before an order is placed.”

In fact, Chris sees a real cultural divide between the US and Europe: “In Europe, the stereotypical hunter is from the upper, landed classes, and the products offered reflect the traditional tastes of European aristocracy. Furthermore, the types of firearms offered are more restricted there, so the show has much more of a ‘traditional’ feel about it.

“In the USA, as the shooting sports continually evolve, the show is much more dynamic. You get the sense every year of some new trend or ‘next big thing’, which you don’t often see in the European shows; and the appeal of US products is slanted more towards the everyman (though there certainly are high-end offerings as well).

“The US show is a more open (some might say chaotic) affair, a host of small, colourful booths displaying many mid-priced articles, as opposed to Europe’s conservatively adorned, expensive booths laden with finely engraved six-figure guns.

“At a US show, you won’t find emissaries of an Arab sheik buying up all of a company’s offerings that tickle the Emir’s fantasy. Loden-green wool dominates the European shows; every imaginable shade of camouflage marks the US show.”

That’s a judgement a few European show organisers may have something to say about – but back to SHOT, and specifically what newcomers to the show really need to know. “Industry members must be prepared to comply with the rules and be prepared for a venue whose size probably far exceeds a first-timer’s wildest expectations,” says Chris. “It is important to emphasise that the show is only for the trade. Spouses, other guests, and certainly consumers will not be allowed to enter the show.

“Of course, if a family member or friend has to be left back at the hotel, Las Vegas is the place to be. The variety of attractions is incredible in what many people refer to as the ‘entertainment capital of the world.’

And Chris’s final word is on the unique appeal of ‘Sin City’: “While you’re there, enjoy the attractions of Las Vegas, but don’t abuse your body. You came to SHOT for business, and that should be your priority, even in the evening, by reviewing your notes, organising the material you collected that day and planning your next day.”

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